Here’s a good article about Dianna Thompson’s new organization, Family Reunion (KGET, 9/25/18). Thompson of course is one of the truly fine advocates for shared parenting, reform of paternity fraud laws and family court reform generally. She’s been at this longer than most of us and done more to raise awareness of the many issues confronting fathers, mothers and children when they take the perilous step into family court.
Family Reunion, to its credit, advocates for shared parenting. The linked-to piece offers a brief comparison of two young people, one of whom (Ryan Rust) was raised by parents who shared parenting about equally post-divorce and another (Monisha Hossain) who was stuck with the usual primary maternal custody arrangement.
Former Family Reunion intern Ryan Rust credits the shared parenting model for making his parents' split a little easier on him as a teen.
"It helped because it made me realize people can have it better," Rust said. "They can go through a divorce easier with parents help and if parents can come together and truly be there for their child it can really benefit them through a time that's really hard for them."
It’s what we try to explain to judges and state legislators across the country: shared parenting makes divorce easier on kids. Truth to tell, it makes it easier on everyone. Dad doesn’t lose his kids and Mom doesn’t take on 80% - 100% of the parenting obligation. What’s not to like?
Sadly, Monisha Hossain has a different story to tell.
Hossain's parents divorced when she was 5.
"My mother got full custody of me and my brother and she packed her bags and moved to Georgia and she would always say mean things about my dad to me and my brother," said Hossain. "It was not the best growing up with my mom and I would have preferred to live with my dad and right now I'm not talking with my mom, I'm only talking with my dad."
Hossain now an advocate for the parenting technique.
"I just don't want others to have to go through what I did," she said.
We’re often encouraged to listen to the children of divorce and rightly so. Well, we should listen to both of these young people who see shared parenting from different perspectives, one on the inside, the other on the outside. But both come to the same conclusion – that for them, a shared arrangement is the best when parents go their separate ways.
Meanwhile, Thompson and Family Reunion are promoting shared parenting agreements between parents that simply bypass the lawyers and judges.
"We currently have a very adversarial court system that often pits one parent against the other and I really firmly believe that children need, want and deserve both parents in their lives and currently that's not happening in the current system that we have," said Thompson. "Parents go in and instead of going through the court system, they fill out a jointly agreed upon parenting plan that is submitted to the court."
The fact is that, when parents submit their own agreed plan for custody and parenting time, if it’s reasonable at all, a judge will gladly rubberstamp it. The last thing judges want to see is hostile parents; they take up far too much time and cause far too much stress. Parents who agree with each other move the docket along more or less effortlessly.
And of course an agreed plan is vastly cheaper for the parents and less stressful than a contested case that inevitably requires the time of attorneys, guardians ad litem, custody evaluators and the like.
Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming majority of parents do just what Thompson urges. Interestingly, when parents agree, they create equal parenting arrangements far more often than do judges. That’s one of the many facts revealed by the analysis of North Dakota’s family courts conducted last year by Leading Women for Shared Parenting. There, 44% of cases that were stipulated by the divorcing parents had an equal parenting plan, while only 10% of cases decided by a judge did.
Thompson of course is onto something. Perhaps the best way to change parenting time orders is to simply take responsibility for deciding them out of judges’ hands.